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Community delivers as 2019 UMass Cancer Walk hits $750,000 goal

2019 green full_cr.pngSeptember 2019

Under the warm sun of the last official day of summer, thousands of people from all walks of life, many wearing team colors, converged on the campus shared by UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial for the 2019 event.

Their collective effort, and the generosity of sponsors, pushed the event across its fundraising goal of $750,000 to support adult and pediatric cancer research and care, and fund clinical trials of new potentially lifesaving cancer therapies at UMass.

“It was a glorious day,” said Richard Carr, chairperson of the event steering committee, and a two-time cancer survivor. “Everywhere I looked, I saw a reflection of our diverse community. Some people still grieving for loved ones lost, and others fighting and surviving. It is remarkable witnessing so many people together supporting each other and all with the same singular goal— to cure cancer. I truly appreciate the sacrifice of each and every person who participated. Their efforts will have an impact on people’s lives now and for generations to come.”

Early in the day the crowd was energized by a powerful delivery of the Star-Spangled Banner by Shrewsbury High School student Aarshiya Sachdeva. A brief speaking program then followed, emceed by WTAG’s Jim Polito, and including remarks from Congressman James McGovern, State Representative James O’Day, UMass Memorial Medical Center President Michael Gustafson, MD, and Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor of Medical Education, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine.

The final speaker brought a hush to the crowd. Brooke Dauksz of Worcester is a single mother raising two children. She has stage 4 rectal cancer. First diagnosed in 2017, Brooke said she’s been through multiple rounds of chemotherapy and several surgeries.

“It was just a few weeks before my 35th birthday, I awoke from my colonoscopy to hear that devastating news. We found a tumor. And it is cancerous,” said Brooke. “I was at a loss for words. In the recovery room, I immediately started crying and all I could think about was my children.”

Soon after her initial diagnosis, tests showed the cancer had already spread to Brooke’s liver. Her treatment plan held the disease at bay for a while, but as many cancers often do, it returned.

“So, here we are today, and I am going through treatment again. I know what it feels like to feel defeated. To want to give up. I know they said it wasn’t going to be easy, but I never could have imagined it was going to be this hard,” Brooke said. “Just keep fighting. I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. I have the oncology dream team here at UMass. Thank you to all the doctors and nurses. Thank you to the doctors and scientists doing the research to find a cure. And thank you to everyone who has donated. Thank you to the survivors and the fighters. And we will never forget the ones we have lost.”

After Brooke spoke, the walk began with the ceremonial “survivors lap” with children and adults in varying stages of recovery stepping off on the quad through a corridor of cheerleaders. The full walk then began, with the assembled throng walking under a rainbow arch and heading for the five-mile or one-mile route.

When walkers returned, the campus was rocking to the beat of Aquanett, a 1980s tribute band that played live at the event’s first “After Party.” Food trucks had rolled in, including FireFly’s BBQ, Bertucci’s, Shishkaberry, Froze-Zone, Moe’s Street Eats, Nicolena’s Cheesecake on a Stick and Snowy Joey’s. They all donated 10 percent of their proceeds that day to the UMass Cancer Walk and Run.

“A day like we had on Sunday only happens because of the commitment of large team of staff, volunteers, and most importantly, families in our community who refuse to let cancer win,” said Beth Whitney, manager of the walk. “Our success on Sunday is their success, and I wish I could thank everyone of them in person.”

Earlier this year, the UMass Cancer Walk and Run was recognized with Worcester Magazine Best of Worcester 2019 Award for a regional fundraising event.

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